Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Today's a double-headed anniversary: I started chemo and this blog one year ago today.

On August 30, 2010, there was so much I didn't know, and I feared that unknown. I didn't know how chemo was going to affect me, and whether it would even "work." I worried about how to keep up with my job after clearing my calendar for a month. But by the second week of chemo, taking a shower or walking into the kitchen had become major accomplishments, and surprisingly, nothing else mattered.

Then into the fall I became proficient at reading blood test reports and picked up such catchy phrases to throw around as “heavy chain class switching," "epigenetic modifiers," and "proteasome inhibitors." Into the winter I alternated between convincing myself and others that I was better, while becoming increasingly frustrated at what I still didn't know and couldn't seem to find out. Into the spring I had to face some harsh realities that the three protocols I've had and am having are all that there is "to do," and that they had just better work. Into the summer, I have been able to feel much more optimistic about my long-term prognosis, and in these waning summer days, still surprise myself each time I look in the mirror and see my chemo-permed hair.

When life pushes you into doing those things which you know you better get around to doing before it's too late, some unexpected things happen. One more thing, I didn't plan it this way, but this blog has become a way for me to tell the stories that might otherwise get lost -- my personal history in short bursts. I appreciate the encouragement I've gotten to keep up the writing beyond medical updates.

So let's see what happens this next year. If I've given up on anything, it's trying to predict the future. Thank you for all of your kind support in my yesterdays, and for sharing my today.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paris has Shakespeare and Company, Portland has Powell’s Books. . .and Ojai has Bart’s Books. Sprawling around the corner of Matilija and Canada Streets, Bart’s Books claims the distinction of being the largest independent outdoor bookstore in the country. It’s also known for its honor system: since 1964, Richard Bartinsdale has allowed patrons to select books from his open-air bookcases after hours and leave their payments in the front door slot.

Poking around the labyrinth corners of Bart’s Books was a late-afternoon pleasure one Saturday earlier this summer. Where to go? What to pick up? From first editions to used paperbacks, Bart’s had everything in between. Was it possible to decide on just one book to bring home? The choices were overwhelming.

As magically as Harry Potter’s wand selecting him, a book was waiting for me. By the time I wended my way to the history section, I was ready to ease into a rattan patio chair. I looked down on the adjacent table and sitting there by itself was a decent-sized paperback, The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes: The Story of George Scovell. My kind of book. Who was I to argue with that kind of serendipity?

That book started something of a Napoleonic era reading streak. I’ve already mentioned that I went on to the Count of Monte Cristo, far more suspenseful than I had anticipated, and Mansfield Park. These three books were surprisingly connected with their shared themes about class distinctions and trueness of character. They could not have fit together better than if I had planned it so.

My time for summer reading is now over. With the fall semester underway, I’m back to reading along with the courses taught in the Master of Liberal Studies program which I direct. Since it’s just the first week of class, I see freshmen carrying new books and actually reading them in between classes. That won’t last long – the first football weekend and exhaustion from fraternity and sorority rushes usually puts an end to that. For now I look at them sitting on campus benches, under the trees in Alumni Park next to my office, and wonder if they’d ever consider getting lost in a maze of a bookstore to be a wonderful way to spend a summer Saturday?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Living as we do in the land of earthquakes and fires, I’d occasionally drill Akemi on what to do in an emergency. “If we have to get out of the house quickly, just leave; don’t stop for anything,” I’d say. But if we have even a few minutes to gather some belongings, we divvied up the priorities: she’d grab her violin first, and I’d take my grandfather’s box and his watercolor of their barracks in Heart Mountain.

From 1942 to the end of World War II, my mother and her parents lived behind barbed wire in a desolate area outside of Cody, Wyoming. At some point, my grandfather, Ayatoshi Kurose, got his hands on some art supplies – Sears catalogue, perhaps – and captured this early-morning scene with Heart Mountain in the backdrop.

Among the more than 10,000 other Japanese Americans in the Heart Mountain camp whom my mother knew then is my “Uncle Norm.” Norman Y. Mineta, former congressman and secretary of Transportation, was among the hundreds of former internees who returned to their camp site this weekend for the opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center. Now that there’s “something” there, I’d be interested in visiting this museum (nothing yet identifies the site of the camp where my father and his family were interned in Poston, Arizona). I bet I could stand where my grandfather stood when he worked on this painting.

Visitors to my home have said this painting belongs in a museum. It does, but it’s not going anywhere, not at least if I have anything to do about it. It is one of the few family belongings which survived their camp days. More meaningful than a photo, it allows us a glimpse into his artistic skills, his perspective, his take on camp life.

Having read some Wallace Stegner this summer, I see my grandfather’s watercolor as an entrance into the discussion fray of whether the West is a geography of hope, a geography of despair, or possibly, both. I’ve always considered this painting to be beautiful, despite its somber colors. I guess I’ve always looked upon it as evidence of the Issei capability to see beauty where there was starkness: hope overcoming despair.

My grandfather probably would be chagrined, too modest to think that something he did for his own enjoyment would have taken on such significance to a subsequent generation. But isn’t that the nature of legacy?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A typical schedule for the week before the new academic year starts:

6:45 a.m.: arrive in office to deal with one department chair’s overnight emergency. 7:30 a.m.: eat a banana at the pancake breakfast with 2,700 new freshmen. 8:00 a.m.: help get 4,000 people lined up for the New Student Convocation (piece of cake compared to the 40,000 people who gather for Commencement). 10:30 a.m.: still sitting in the hot sun in a heavy black regalia. 11:00 a.m.: help a different department chair resolve his crisis of last Thursday. 11:30 a.m.: put in appearance at the Dornsife College welcome picnic. 12:00 p.m.: deliver homemade gazpacho to the farewell potluck in my old School of Policy, Planning, and Development for a former staff member. 2:00 p.m.: race against the clock to real work done. 5:30 p.m.: help staff set up for MLS welcome dinner. 6:00 p.m.: start greeting new MLS students. 7:00 p.m.: serve my signature German chocolate cake at MLS dinner. 8:30 p.m.: listen to the tuba section of the USC Marching Band practice as I leave my office and not think about the cramps in my leg and tired feet in heels.

And here we go for another year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arugula makes me think of pumpkin seed oil, which makes me think of Prof. Dr. Klaus Kunzmann, which makes me think of the University of Dortmund, all of which are happy thoughts.

In the 1990s when I was with the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, I organized, among an assortment of things, a graduate course which we called an “international real estate lab.” I worked with faculty from other universities abroad with a strong urban planning and real estate department to establish an exchange – I’d put on an academic program with lectures, tours, and activities for a group of their students here, and they’d host us for our visit there. It would take at least a year, if not longer, to set things up, and another academic year to line up and prepare our students to work with their faculty and students on some project or set of issues. Over three spring breaks, I shepherded students to Sydney, Hong Kong, and the Ruhrgebiet/Berlin, the last a result of our department connections with the University of Dortmund.

On one of his visits here, Klaus and I worked out the framework of our exchange. We had him over towards the end of his stay and I served with dinner a salad of arugula from my garden. Fortunately Klaus considered an arugula salad to be one of his very favorite dishes, and he marveled that it would be growing so abundantly steps away from our dinner table.

Our first night in Dortmund, Klaus met us at the train station and walked us through an honest-promise forest to his home. Harkening back to our Pasadena conversation, that night he served my students and me an all-arugula salad, tossed simply with salt, ground pepper, and pumpkin seed oil. Now it was my turn to marvel at something my host served, for I had never heard of pumpkin seed oil before. I loved the oil’s lovely pale green shade – not at all a pumpkin color! – and the combination of flavor with the arugula. Klaus said I could find this oil, made in Austria, while I was here in Germany. The rest of the evening, we talked of music, literature, art, and even dance; he was pleased I had seen the Pina Bausch dance troupe from nearby Wuppertal during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Festival. My students had never experienced an evening like it. It was only our first outing, and already the trip was magical.

As we visited the university, real estate projects, administrative offices, and even a soccer game, I kept my eye out for “kürbiskern öl” when we went in and out of retail areas and arcades. I practiced saying “kürbiskern öl” – it’s not easy! – to be prepared to ask for it, and felt I had won a scavenger hunt when I spotted a bottle in a delicatessen.

At this time of year, when my arugula is growing like a weed, I think of that most pleasant evening in Dortmund and the rest of that successful study tour in Germany, that most cultured and intellectual colleague, and that first souvenir bottle of salad elixir. And I smile.